MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Agriculture is embarking on a multi-million peso project to be funded by the Aquino administration’s economic stimulus fund that would increase fish production in coastal towns through rehabilitation of mangrove forests and give rural families additional income.
As the country faces the prospect of dwindling fish catches due to overfishing, the department has launched the Integrated Community-Based Multi-Species Hatchery and Aquasilvi Farming, a program that aims to enhance fisheries and increase the number of self-sufficient fisher families.
“The poverty of fisher families is often traced to declining catch whether due to big commercial fishers or the sheer decline in fish population. An integrated and sustainable approach requires the restoration of mangrove areas that disappeared due to unsustainable fishing cages,” the year-end report of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said.
The project has a budget of P280 million and has the support of 61 state colleges and universities. The agriculture chief noted that the funding comes from “the President’s stimulus fund and it is ready to go.”
According to Alcala, the project has identified 31 coastal areas that would engage in community-based hatcheries with the help of the fishery departments of state universities and colleges. He said the families that will undertake mangrove farming in a total of 11,700 hectares live in these areas. .
“These community-based hatcheries will differ much from the expensive and sophisticated hatcheries we are accustomed of because our purpose really is for the fisherfolk to realize the importance of stock enhancement,” Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez explained.
The multi-species hatcheries, which will be established by the state colleges in suitable areas, would serve as “lying-in” centers for gravid high-value species, Perez said.
“A gravid crab, for instance carries with it millions of eggs which if allowed to hatch in the said hatchery will benefit the fishermen and the consumers as well,” Perez said.
Aside from maintaining the hatcheries, the families would also have to maintain and restore the mangroves in their areas.
This is part of the government’s reforestation program, which eyes to rehabilitate the country’s mangrove cover that has shrunk by more than 80 percent from its pristine state of half a billion hectares in the early 1900s. Aside from protecting fishing grounds, mangroves also protect communities from strong sea surges during typhoons and prevent soil erosion.
Under the program, every hectare shall be planted to 3,000 trees for which the fisher family gets paid a total of P5.50 per mangrove tree (P1.50 for the planting material, P2 for planting and P2 for every tree that survives) for an income of P16,500 upon replanting and watching over the hectare of mangrove assigned to the family.
“For mangrove habitat rehabilitation alone, a fishermen who could plant 2,000 mangrove trees could earn as much as P12,000 a year,” Perez said.
The mangrove areas will be used to grow the fingerlings supplied by the hatcheries. The Department of Agriculture said it would supply nets to enclose the nesting ground. Canals within the mangrove area will be dug as growing sanctuaries for the fishes. Excess fishes may be set free into the wild, increasing fish population for other small fishers.
“Families have the choice whether to raise fish for food or for sale. They also have the choice of consolidating their catch with other aquasilvi fishers. Hence, while we invest in restoring the mangroves for a healthier growing area for the fishes, we are also providing fisher families with their own fishing ground and seeding the waters with new fishes grown in the restored mangroves,” Alcala said.